For the past year or so, a group of urban agriculture activists here in SF, has been working to push forward the idea of incentivizing urban property owners to sign long term leases with farmers by offering an adjusted property tax rate. If a property owner agrees to put their land into long-term agricultural use (10 years or more), the county could opt to assess the property at a lower rate based on it’s agricultural use instead of its market value. Over the year, we’ve had countless meetings discussing the idea, brainstorming its implications, and researching similar models (there are few, but a helpful starting point was California’s Williamson Act). Fortunately, State Assemblymember Phil Ting (former SF Tax Assessor), looking for ways to promote urban agriculture at the state level, has recently adopted the idea and has officially introduced statewide legislation known as Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act (AB 551).
You can find the current draft of the legislation here, along with a comprehensive FAQ about the bill here. It should be noted that the legislation is still in draft form, and our group of SF urban ag activists is strongly pushing for a few key changes to the draft before it’s finalized. We’ll post updated language to the draft as it unfolds.
This legislation could directly affect the sustainability of projects like ours, and even more importantly, could generate opportunities for more self-sustaining commercial farms to sprout up in cities throughout California. I think this could be a promising step toward the viability of urban farming, as well as toward widening its accessibility by lowering a significant financial barrier. And, more broadly, if this legislation passes and is put into use, it could help bridge the gap between urban and rural food production and consumption, and California’s cities could be on a path to becoming stronger and better-informed allies in advocating for a healthier agricultural system overall.